Kirk (William Shatner) and crew are assigned to quell a rebellion on the prison planet Nimbus III, and instead find a religious zealot (Laurence Luckinbill) on a quest to find God. He commandeers the Enterprise and intends to use it to reach the center of the galaxy where he claims Eden is fabled to exist.
This flick is just plain dumb. The story is weak, the pacing is pedantic, the acting is bad from virtually everyone, including Mr. Shatner himself, and worst of all the special effects are some of the worst since the original Flash Gordon serials. The budget was pretty low and Industrial Light & Magic, who provided the FX for parts 2-4, were too expensive and were not available. Shatner ended up hiring a company called Bran Ferren & Associates who had worked on Altered States, Little Shop of Horrors and Second Sight. The end result was disastrous. The effects look like a step below what was shown weekly on Star Trek: The Next Generation. The Enterprise looked like it was a store purchased model because the lighting was all wrong, the goofy water effects were like something out of Barbarella and everything just appeared incredibly fake. Even the “God” effects were a complete shambles. Shatner and the producers should have known better.
It also features one of the worst villains in the history of Star Trek. Yes, even worse than the go-go dancers who stole Spock’s brain. Sybok isn’t compelling or threatening, he’s just annoying. Laurence Luckinbill plays him as a sort of idiot savant with dreamy eyes that people get lost in way too often. He also can’t seem to keep himself from grinning ridiculously during his dialogue scenes. His random superpower of being able to take away the pain we bury deep within our subconscious is never really explained and serves to give the film its only genuinely good scene (when McCoy and Spock reveal their tragic pasts). And the fact that he’s Spock’s half-brother?! I call bullshit, especially at our favorite Vulcan’s lame ass explanation as to why he never mentioned him before (“I was not disposed to discuss matters of a personal nature”).
And WTF is up with Uhura singing and dancing naked in the desert?! Seriously. That happens. My eyes still bleed a little whenever I think about it.
The minor villains, a crew of renegade Klingons, are pretty awful as well. Their motivation is not really honor based (as Klingons are made out to be in The Next Generation), it’s more like they just want to be assholes and get in the way whenever something important is about to happen. The actors sure did their homework and learned that Klingon dialect, but that’s all the credit I will give them.
If you’ve seen any episode of the original series you’d know that creator Gene Roddenberry wanted nothing to do with organized religion. Half the episodes were about Kirk telling some God-fearing alien race that their deity was a lie, and he was usually right. The story Shatner came up with follows that basic outline to a “T”. The problem is that it’s all handled in the most ham-fisted way imaginable. Whatever point Shatner wanted to make by proving that the “God” in this movie was in fact a lie isn’t brought to a satisfactory conclusion and ends up being a complete waste of time. I give him points for harkening back to the source material, but he failed miserably.
What this sequel does have going for it is the Kirk/Spock/McCoy bromance. Out of all the movies up to this point, Star Trek V gets this aspect right. Yeah, the opening scene with the mountain climbing is as stupid as anything else in the flick, as is the campfire singing crap, but the dialogue exchanges between these three characters reminds me of how they interacted in the television show. Bones and Spock’s scenes are some of the best (“I’m well versed in the classics, Doctor.” “Then how come you don’t know ‘Row, Row Row Your Boat?’”), and the way Kirk and McCoy constantly throw little insults at Spock, with which he tosses a “logical” insult back at them, puts a grin on my face every time (“I ought to knock you on your goddamn ass!” “If you think it would help…?”).
Another plus is that composer Jerry Goldsmith returned to score the film. While he does tend to rely on cheesy synths a little too often for my tastes, he did bring back the awesome main theme from Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The music brings the trite material up a few notches on a couple of occasions (the return of the Klingon theme for example), but this project is beyond saving.
This flick is trash, plain and simple. After watching it you can just feel that the Star Trek features had run their course and this was the swan song for the franchise. The whole project was a bad idea, start to finish. It’s incompetently made in almost every respect and is an embarrassment for the most part. Fortunately Paramount wasn’t done with this crew, and they bounced back… big time.